Australia Pushing to Send More Refugees: Group

A month after the first four refugees arrived in Cambodia under a controversial resettlement scheme the government signed with Australia last year, immigration officers on the South Pacific island of Nauru are ratcheting up efforts to convince more refugees to join them, according to a rights group.

The four refugees arrived in Phnom Penh on June 4, the first to volunteer to resettle in Cambodia under an agreement the government made to take in an unspecified number of the hundreds of refugees Australia is holding on Nauru. It took Australia months to convince the four to come, and no one has followed them yet.

The 'Cambodia Information Hub' that Australia set up on Nauru for refugees interested in resettling in Cambodia. The sign on the door says the hub is open on weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Refugee Action Coalition)
The ‘Cambodia Information Hub’ that Australia set up on Nauru for refugees interested in resettling in Cambodia. The sign on the door says the hub is open on weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Refugee Action Coalition)

But the Refugee Action Coalition, a Sydney-based advocacy group in contact with people on Nauru, said that staff for the Australian Immigration Department and Connect Settlement Services, Australia’s service provider on Nauru, were actively attempting to change that.

“There is considerable renewed activity on Nauru to try and get people to agree to go to Cambodia,” said Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the group. “The last two weeks or so, Immigration and Connect have been cold-calling refugees and also using any scheduled interviews to push Cambodia again.”

Mr. Rintoul said they appeared to be targeting refugees who are on Nauru alone and promising a speedy reunion with their families in Cambodia if they take the deal.

He said the officers were also continuing to offer thousand of dollars in cash to refugees who move to Cambodia, but insisting on spreading the payments out “so that they can never have enough at one time to be able to consider going somewhere else.”

In May, a “Cambodia Information Hub” was set up on Nauru across from the local offices of Australia’s Immigration Department and Connect to serve as a resource center for interested refugees. Mr. Rintoul said the hub, a whitewashed shipping container open two hours a day, was still there, but attracting little attention.

He said he was not aware of any more refugees who had volunteered to move to Cambodia.

On Thursday, the head of the Cambodian immigration department’s refugee office, Kerm Sarin, confirmed that there were no new volunteers and that the government was not planning trips to Nauru to find more.

Cambodian officials visited the island three times before finding the first four volunteers. Canberra has repeatedly told the refugees on Nauru that they will never resettle in Australia.

In an attempt to sweeten the Cambodia deal, Australia has been circulating a “fact sheet” among the refugees on Nauru that includes a number of false statements about the political, healthcare and security situation in Cambodia.

Australia’s Immigration Department did not reply to a request for comment Sunday about its latest recruitment efforts.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

peter@cambodiadaily.com

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